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A pollinator is the biotic agent (vector) that moves pollen from the male anthers of a flower to the female stigma of a flower to accomplish fertilization or syngamy of the female gamete in the ovule of the flower by the male gamete from the pollen grain. Though the terms are sometimes confused, a pollinator is different from a pollenizer, which is a plant that is a source of pollen for the pollination process.

Types of pollinators[]

The most recognized pollinators are the various species of bees, which are plainly adapted to pollination. Honey bees are fuzzy and carry an electrostatic charge. Both features help pollen grains adhere to their bodies. Bees often also have a pollen carrying structure such as the corbicula of honey bees and bumblebees (also known as the pollen basket), or the scopa of the lower abdomen of megachilid bees, made up of thic, plumose setae. Honey bees gather nectar, a concentrated energy source, and pollen, which is high protein food, to nurture their young, and inadvertently transfer some among the flowers as they are working. Honey bees need a steady source of pollen to multiply.

Euglossine bees pollinate orchids, but collect scents rather than nectar or pollen.

Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) also pollinate. They are not major pollinators of our food crops, but various moths are important for some wildflowers, or other commercial crops such as tobacco.

Many other insects accomplish pollination. Wasps (esp. Sphecidae and Vespidae), bombyliid flies and syrphid flies are important pollinators of some plants. Beetles, and even thrips or ants can sometimes pollinate flowers. Green bottle or carrion flies are important for some flowers, usually ones that exude a fetid odor. Diptera (Flies) are the main pollinators in higher elevations of mountains whereas Bombus species are the only pollinators among Apoidea in alpine regions at timberline and beyond. Other insect orders are rarely pollinators, and then often only accidentally (e.g., Hemiptera such as Anthocoridae, Miridae)

Bats are important pollinators of some tropical flowers. Birds, particularly hummingbirds, honeyeaters and sunbirds also accomplish much pollination, especially of deep-throated flowers. Other vertebrates, such as monkeys, lemurs, possums, rodents and lizards[1] have been recorded pollinating some plants.

Plants fall into pollination syndromes that reflect the type of pollinator being attracted. These are characteristics such as: the size, the depth of the corolla, the color (including patterns called nectar guides that are visible only in ultraviolet light), the scent, amount of nectar, composition of nectar, etc.[2] For example, birds visit red flowers with long narrow tubes and lots of nectar, but are not as strongly attracted to wide flowers with little nectar and copious pollen, which are more attractive to beetles. When these characteristics are experimentally modified (altering colour, size, orientation), pollinator visitation may decline[3],[4].

Humans can be pollinators, as many gardeners have discovered that they must hand pollinate garden vegetables, whether because of pollinator decline (as has been occurring in parts of the U.S. since the mid-20th century) or simply to keep the strain genetically pure. This can involve using a small brush or cotton swab to move pollen, or to simply tap or shake tomato blossoms to release the pollen for the self pollinating flowers. Tomato blossoms are self fertile, but (with the exception of potato-leaf varieties) have the pollen inside the anther, and the flower requires shaking to release the pollen through pores. This can be done by wind, by humans, or by a sonicating bee (one that vibrates its wing muscles while perched on the flower), such as a bumblebee. Sonicating bees are extremely efficient pollinators of tomatoes, and colonies of bumblebees are quickly replacing humans as the primary pollinators for greenhouse tomatoes.

Many kinds of pollinators, from blue bottle flies, to bumblebees, and leaf cutter bees are cultured and sold for managed pollination. Millions of hives of honey bees are also contracted out as pollinators by beekeepers.


  1. Olesen, J. M. & A. Valido. 2003. Lizards as pollinators and seed dispersers: an island phenomenon. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 18: 177-181.
  2. Faegri, K. and L. van der Pijl. 1979. The principles of pollination ecology. Oxford: Pergamon.
  3. Fulton M, Hodges SA. 1999. Floral isolation between Aquilegia formosa and A. pubescens. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Series B 266: 2247–2252.
  4. Hodges SA, Whittall JB, Fulton M, Yang JY. 2002. Genetics of floral traits influencing reproductive isolation between Aquilegia formosa and A. pubescens. American Naturalist 159: S51–S60.


  • Sprenghel, C K. Das entdeckte Geheimnis der Natur im Bau und in der Befruchtung der Blumen. Berlin, 1793.
  • Faegri, K, and L. van der Pijl. The Principles of Pollination Ecology. New York: Pergamon Press, 1979.
  • Percival, Mary S. Floral Biology. New York: Pergamon Press, 1965.
  • Real, Leslie. Pollination Biology. New York: Academic Press, 1983.

See also[]

  • List of plants pollinated by bees
  • Pollination
  • Pollination syndromes
  • Self-pollination

External links[]